Business leader Bill Cravens, dies at 89

William L. "Bill" Cravens is shown in this Nov. 5, 2008 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

"Go fix things."

Those three simple words guided Bill Cravens to an acclaimed career as a leader in the Central Arkansas business community, where he leaves behind a solid imprint on the state's banking, software development and racing sectors. More importantly, his graciousness and generosity leave an enduring mark on thousands of Arkansans whose lives and careers he helped guide.

William L. Cravens, a member of the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, died peacefully at his Little Rock home Tuesday. He was 89.

The Paris native, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, was a trained industrial engineer who began his career with General Electric, a job that took him to Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts before he returned to Arkansas permanently.

Back in the state, Cravens become a partner in Russell Brown & Co. as a certified public accountant. In 1976, he moved to First National Bank in Little Rock, becoming its president and chief executive officer, and igniting a banking career that drove expansions in Arkansas and eventually led him to lead development of banking software products at Alltel Information Services, which was a subsidiary of Alltel Corp. of Little Rock. Alltel Information Services has transformed into one of the world's leading financial technology providers, Fidelity National Information Services.

"Bill was an engaging and positive leader who had a great impact on the economy of Arkansas, but even more importantly, he left a mark of love, respect, and a 'we can do this' attitude on everyone he ever worked with," said Scott Ford, co-founder of Westrock Coffee Co. who was president and chief executive officer of Alltel. "I am thankful to have been one of the thousands of people whose life was greatly impacted by him."

At the same time, Cravens became a director of the Oaklawn Jockey Club, a position he held until a recent retirement.

In the banking industry, he was a leader in the merger of First National Bank and Commercial National Bank, forming First Commercial Bank. When Little Rock's Worthen Banking Corp. began to suffer financially, Cravens was called on to help direct the recovery and sale of Worthen, which today is part of Bank of America.

After recovering from a heart attack, Cravens was appointed to lead Alltel Information Services, which developed back-office software to enhance check processing and other services for the nation's banking industry.

Then, once again, he returned to banking, helping form Pinnacle Bank in 1997 and serving as chairman of the community bank. Pinnacle was sold to Bancorp South in 2002. He continued as a director until 2005.

Cravens' personal and community contributions were as highly noted as his business career.

"Bill Cravens was the epitome of a gentleman businessman, the likes of which seldom come our way," said Jay Chesshir, chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. "Yet, he was also extremely humble and kind and always willing to help anyone who asked. An unparalleled executive in so many businesses, organizations and community efforts, he was the leader everyone turned to for wise and measured counsel. Beyond his rich and legendary ability to clearly see through problems and find opportunity, he was beloved by everyone who was blessed to call him friend."

Cravens met his life-long love, Mary Lou Morris, at the university, and they married in 1956 and celebrated 67 years together. Bill and Mary Lou had three daughters.

Giving back was important to Cravens, and he served the community as chairman of Fifty for the Future, the Little Rock Port Authority, the Arkansas Arts Center, the Arkansas Cancer Research Center at UAMS, Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute, United Way of Pulaski County, Elizabeth Mitchell Children's Center, City Education Trust, and The Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

Cravens also was a long-time supporter of the University of Arkansas and was inducted into the College of Engineering Hall of Fame in 2006 and into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2013.